Mar 28, 2024 - Business

Unpacking NBC's PR crisis after Ronna McDaniel's aborted hiring

Illustration of NBC's logo on fire.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

NBC News has been navigating a high-profile reputational crisis surrounding its aborted hiring of ex-RNC chair Ronna McDaniel as a contributor.

Why it matters: The potential for internal blowback is something communication leaders can anticipate, prepare for and test against, and that's why they should be at the table when big decisions are made.

Catch up quick: Top talent like Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd criticized the decision on-air.

  • After days of silence, NBCU News Group chair Cesar Conde sent a memo to staff taking responsibility for the decision and apologizing for temporarily thwarting a "cohesive and aligned" newsroom.
  • NBC News reps declined Axios' request for comment.

Between the lines: Including communication leaders in complex business decisions or strategies can provide more cushion should a PR crisis come crashing down on a company. A majority of Fortune 500 companies have recognized this, per a recent Edelman study.

  • Chief communications officers report that nearly one-fifth of their time — or the equivalent of one day per week — is spent counseling the CEO on non-comms-related work.
  • Plus, 91% heads of comms are being brought in before or during the decision-making process to help craft a company's strategy, while only 9% are brought in to simply execute a plan.

The big picture: If you consider the most recent large PR crises — like Disney's or Bud Light's — they all started because key stakeholders were left in the dark, caught by surprise and completely misaligned with the corporate strategy.

  • That's why testing the message ahead of time, quelling the concerns of key internal stakeholders — such as managers or, in this case, key talent — and arming them with context are important steps when rolling out any contentious strategy or decision.

What to watch: This costly distraction created a major trust gap internally, and the network will have rebuild relations while also re-strategizing how to appeal to right-leaning viewers ahead of the election.

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